§ *LORD LAMINGTON rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the position of affairs in Persia with particular reference to the Anglo-Russian Convention.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, on several occasions I have troubled your Lordships with remarks on the trend of events in Persia, and the present situation in that country justifies the fears to which I have from time to time given expression. The Anglo-Russian Convention was adopted as a kind of healing plaster for the political sore in Persia but I fear that at the present time the wound is gaping far beyond the edges of the plaster that was then applied. The Anglo-Russian Convention was adopted in 1907 on the basis—and it is important to remember this—as stated in the Preamble of the Convention, that the Governments of Great Britain and Russia engaged to respect the integrity and independence of Persia. 673 That was fortified by the Memorandum presented by our Ambassador to the Persian Government in September, 1907, in which the Anglo-Russian Convention was referred to as being "based on a guarantee of Persia's independence and integrity." The Persian Revolution in the following year was, no doubt, the outcome chiefly of abhorrence of the cruel oppression exercised by the then ruler of that country, the ex-Shah Mohamed Ali; but there is reason to believe that the Persians were getting very much alarmed at the growing interference with their affairs by their two great neighbours, and particularly in respect of the Articles of the Anglo-Russian Convention which they regarded as infringing their political independence.
§ We are always confronted with the retort—it is made frequently in the House of Commons and in that portion of the Press which supports the foreign policy of His Majesty's Government—What would have happened had the Convention not been framed? That is a hypothesis with which it is impossible to deal. First of all, it is quite possible, for the reason I have given, that the Revolution would never have taken place; secondly, one does not know what value Russia and Great Britain placed upon their respective interests or how far they were willing to press diplomatically in defence of their respective interests. I am quite willing to admit that the Convention has secured harmony between Great Britain and Russia at present—I hope for ever—but I maintain that that harmony would have been perfectly consistent with also securing the independence and integrity of Persia. There was nothing incompatible in that. But the present harmony has, I think, been established by the sacrifice of the real basis contained in the Preamble of the Convention, and at the present time the situation in Persia is pretty much the same, in my opinion, as if no Convention existed.
§ Look at the present situation. At the present time from Tabriz in the West to Meshed in the East, through that long stretch of Northern Persia, it may be said that Russian control is practically absolute. Coming further south to the capital, Teheran, I do not know of any other authority exercised there at the present time than that of Russia. I do not say it is supreme, but I do not know of any other 674 authority or control there. I do not believe that any important act is undertaken by the Persian Government at the present time without the sanction or approval of the Russian Government. The glove may be Persian, but the hand inside the glove is Russian. How far further south that control may be exercised I do not profess to say. One hears wonderful stories of Russian influence spreading right away throughout Southern Persia. Personally I do not believe in all these stories or in the machinations and intrigues that are imputed to Russia, but these stories are the necessary consequence where you have power exercised without responsibility. There is no responsible power at the present time in Persia. What is the result in Southern Persia? You have there a state of complete anarchy. The Central Government is powerless to exercise any authority throughout that vast area. The main trunk route from Teheran to Isfahan all last year and sometime previously was constantly being looted. The mail horses were stolen, and there was practically an interruption of all trade; and the only solution found for that state of things was for the Government to appoint the chief brigand to be in command of a large district, and since that time he has been occupied in despoiling the district of which he is in charge.
§ As regards our own position. A few months ago from the Baluchistan frontier in the East all along the south coast to Persia, right away up the Persian Gulf, and up the west Persian frontier till one arrives at Russian territory there was not a single commercial route open except that which is known as the Lynch road—a rough mule track over a succession of high mountain chains. That road was open two months ago but in May it was closed owing to the coming down of a wild tribe, and I believe that route is closed at the present time. Therefore you may say that right away from Baluchistan up to the Russian frontier there is no trade route available at the present time. In consequence of this our own prestige in Persia has suffered considerably. The people know that as a nation we do not desire to annex a single acre of their territory. They have always regarded us as their friends, but they consider that we have been timid and pusillanimous in not upholding their individual rights. The goodwill they have hitherto entertained for us has suffered 675 somewhat by the action last year of His Majesty's Government in sending a detachment of troops up to Shiraz and Isfahan. That detachment was either too small or too big. It was too small to do anything with regard to maintaining order in the country, but it was sufficiently large to create feelings of animosity.
§ I have recently been in Persia, and throughout my journey I found one feeling of depression and despondency among the Persians with whom I came in contact, whether individually or collectively, owing to the passing away, as they consider, of their freedom. I know nothing more depressing than a journey in Persia at the present time. That is the result of the Convention, or rather of the working of the Convention by His Majesty's Government. In my view the Revolution gave a splendid opportunity, it was a real godsend, for putting life and spirit into the declaration that it was intended to maintain the independence and integrity of Persia. Recently Sir Edward Grey in another place stated that a very large section of Russian opinion is discontented at the working of the Convention. They regard the Convention as a self-denying ordinance and a one-sided affair, and believe that Russia has given up a great deal and obtained very little in return. I am aware that those views are held by a large body of Russian opinion. At the same time, I believe there is a section of the Russian people who are opposed to any territorial extension of their responsibility. Those two rival parties have their representatives in Persia itself, and instances have occurred time after time in which it has been found that the responsible Minister, the authority representing Russian interests in Persia, has adopted one policy and his lieutenants have acted almost diametrically opposite. The Minister may be loyally endeavouring to carry out the terms of the Convention, but his subordinates have been advancing Russian interests to the detriment of those of Persia.
§ I admit that this makes the work of our diplomatists much more difficult, but I do not think it absolves His Majesty's Government from putting more strength and vigour into their negotiations with Russia for the carrying out in a proper spirit of the terms of the Convention. Only last week in this House we had practically an admission from the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, 676 that the principle of the Trans-Persian railway was accepted by His Majesty's Government under coercion. They did not adopt it in the interests of India, but because something dreadful might have happened had they refused the proposal as put before them. It is clear from the Blue-book on Persian Affairs recently published that that is not the only occasion on which we have been very submissive in our dealings with Russia. Your Lordships may remember that, after Mohamed. Ali had been dismissed from his Throne and had taken refuge in Europe, he returned through Russian territory and had a series of fights with his countrymen in order to regain his Throne if possible. As is shown in the Blue-book, time after time it has been represented what harm has been done to Persian interests and to British and Indian interests by the ex-Shah's return, and how the great tribe, the Bakhtiari, had to take the best men from their country and go and fight the ex-Shah, with the result that the money supplied to Persia for the purpose of her regeneration, instead of being spent on improving the administration in Southern Persia, had to be spent in meeting the ex-Shah. Finally he was defeated and had to leave Persia.
May I allude to one curious misconception which I think Sir Edward Grey is under? He said that it was only owing to Russian influence that the ex-Shah was got rid of and had to leave Persia. That is a travesty of what took place. Had it not been for Russian support the ex-Shah would not have been living at this time, or he would have been a wandering pauper in some other part of the world. It was recognised that, having returned to Persia, he was not justified in claiming any longer his pension, but on the representation of Russia his pension was allowed to be awarded to him again. Sir Edward Grey, in a telegraphic Despatch of January 17, said—
A rendition of the renewal of the pension must Is' that Great Britain and Russia will lend Persian Government their support against Mohamed Ali if lie returns to Persia without the consent of the two Powers.
After a long series of Despatches I gather that the ex-Shah finally left Persia about two months after that date, with the only stipulation that he should not return to Persia or should forfeit his pension if he returned to Persia "without the consent of the Russian Government." The consent of the British Government was waived, as
also was any idea that we should give support to the Persian. Government should Mohamed Ali return again to Persia. That is an instance of how the position that was taken up with great fairness at so late a date as January 17 has been whittled away.
In this connection I should like to obtain a definite answer on the point whether His Majesty's Government still adhere to what was said in this House by Lord Morley in December last. The noble Viscount then said—
Whatever intrigues may have gone on between the ex-Shalt and the subordinate agents of the Russian Government, they do not affect the desire, the intention, of the Russian Government not to support the ex-Shah if he should attempt to return to his Throne, and we for our part have informed the Russian Government that it would be impossible for us under any circumstances whatever to recognise the ex-Shah.
It is highly desirable to obtain some definite answer on this point, because the greatest fear is felt in Persia at the present time that the ex-Shah may return, that if he did there would possibly be a series of terrible reprisals, and also that he would be a mere puppet in the hands of the Russian Government.
§ There is one other instance of where His Majesty's Government have very readily acquiesced in Russian action, and that is with regard to the garrison that is kept at Kazvin. On December 27 our Ambassador at St. Petersburg said that M. Sazonoff was quite prepared to withdraw the troops from Kazvin as soon as the conditions of the Ultimatum that was then being presented to the Persian Government were complied with. There was a subsequent Despatch which admitted that these conditions had been fully complied with; but the garrison at Kazvin was not withdrawn. His Majesty's Government from time to time made representations about its continued stay there, particularly at the time when the ex-Shah left Persia, but the garrison of at least 1,000 men was still at Kazvin in May, and there is no reason to believe that it is not there at the present moment. I quote these instances as showing that His Majesty's Government have been more than complaisant, that they have been only too ready to sacrifice the independence of Persian interests. The whole of the Bluebook shows what a farce it is to talk of there being any freedom of action on the part of the Persian Government. One of 678 the conditions of the loan of £200,000 to Persia was that Persia should recognise fully the Anglo-Russian Convention. Hitherto they have always been opposed to any such recognition, because they deemed the Convention to be an infringement of their sovereign powers. However much they resisted it, they finally had to give their agreement to the Convention, and in doing so I think they sealed the fact that they were no longer an independent Power.
Perhaps I am rather flogging a dead horse in dwelling upon the independence of Persia, because in the House of Commons in December last we had an admission by Sir Edward Grey which seemed to me to give the whole case away. At that time he said, in reference to the Anglo-Russian Agreement—
It was never intended by the Agreement to destroy or diminish Russian influence in any part of Asia where it had already been obtained. The object of the Agreement was not to thrust Russia hack, and, or course, not to deprive ourselves of any influence we had at the time in Asia. Russian influence when the Anglo-Russian Agreement was made was already predominant in the North of Persia.
A perfect state of stagnation does not exist, and it was not likely, if Russian influence was not to decline, that matters would remain exactly as they were at the time of the signing of the Convention. There was bound to be an advance towards an extension of the interests of Russia and possibly of ourselves. Therefore if it was the intention of His Majesty's Government at that time that there was to be no decline of the interests or of the influence of the two Powers in Persia, it was perfectly inconsistent to make any reference in the Convention to "the independence and integrity" of Persia. On February 8 Sir Edward Grey said, in a Despatch, that the Persian Government was deserving now of the support of His Majesty's Government because they had got rid of those members who were unfavourable to the continuance of Russian influence in Northern Persia. That is really the whole case against the Mejliss. What these people were fighting for was simply the ordinary independence of their country and for freedom of action. But this was held to be a reproach, and not until the Mejliss was, by a coup ďétat, dissolved and some members of the Government who were supposed to hold strongly Nationalist views were dismissed did His
Majesty's Government think fit to give any support to the Persian Government. "Patriotism" seems to be only a virtue in the case of a great and powerful and Christian nation; where in a country like Turkey or Persia efforts are made by the people to defend their rights and freedom patriotism is held to be rather an absurdity and almost a wickedness. Personally I regard with admiration those who have done their best to hold on to their country and to make it an independent country.
§ It is customary for upholders of the policy of His Majesty's Government to say that Persians are quite incapable of ruling their own country. I emphatically express my dissent from that point of view. I have come in contact in Persia with men who are quite capable, in my opinion, of ruling their country. You have Mr. Shuster's opinion on that point. There are men in Persia quite fit to occupy important posts and to maintain order and secure the proper working of responsible government. Also I have come in contact with people who have been for a long time resident in Persia, who know Persia and its inhabitants better than do our own Government officials, and who say that there are men there who are absolutely qualified in this direction. Yet the taunt is constantly flung in their face that they are incapable of managing their own affairs. If that doctrine was sound it is the more ridiculous to male out that you are working the Convention with the idea of setting up a free and independent country. For myself, I believe that the Anglo-Russian Convention was brought into being in order to save His Majesty's Government from having a policy about Persia at all. Secondly, it fulfilled the object of acting as a screen to the British public regarding the true position of affairs in Persia. Whenever an incident occurs in that country of a deplorable nature a curtain bearing the inscription "The Convention; all is well" is at once let down, and the gaze of the public is hidden from the drama which is being enacted on the Persian stage.
§ The question may be put to me, "What do you propose should be done in Persia? Can it be saved now?" I believe that, even at the eleventh hour, something practical could be done to save Persia and to maintain its integrity. First of all, you have a very peaceable and tractable people easily governed. The bulk of the people are renowned for their peaceful 680 proclivities. There are one or two aggressive tribes, but they are not of the character of those tribes on the North-West frontier of India with which we have had to deal, and I believe that in a short space of time they could be brought into submission. The great bulk of the people of Persia are quite easy to rule. Then, again, you have a body of men who could be easily trained and disciplined to act as gendarmerie. While I was in Persia I came in contact with some of the remnants of Mr. Shuster's gendarmerie, and I found them an excellent, willing and scrupulously honest body of men. The energetic and zealous Swedish officers who are training the gendarmerie there could not speak too highly of the aptitude of their Persian recruits to learn their drill and make themselves a model gendarmerie. Those two factors might help towards securing Persian independence.
§ But there must be two big changes. First of all, you must get rid of the present financial system, which commands no confidence at all, either amongst Persians or amongst British residents in the country; and, secondly, there must be a complete change of attitude on the part of the two Governments towards the working of the Convention. They would have to put life and spirit into the words "independence and integrity." They must honestly desire to infuse a national spirit into the people, and the Government must not be liable to be suppressed whenever at any particular time they are able to execute some reform. That has been what has taken place in the past, and the object of my remarks to-night is to let the public in this country know that all is not well in Persia, and that at the present time there are complications which may develop very seriously, and perhaps disastrously, because the independence of the ancient kingdom of Persia now hangs by the very finest of threads and its integrity is rifted through and through.
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE ion INDIA (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend, Lord Morley, who usually undertakes the reply to Foreign Office questions on behalf of the Government, could not be in his place to-day, as he is receiving an honour which he highly prizes at the hands of his fellow-townsmen in Lancashire. But, as it happens, in relation to this particular question it is also my business to keep 681 myself abreast of all the information as it comes to His Majesty's Government, and therefore I will do my best to reply to the various points which have been raised by the noble Lord. We recognise, of course, his right to raise this subject from his personal knowledge of the country increased by a recent visit, and we welcome any pieces of information which he is able to give us either of events that are actually happening in the country or of what he has observed of the disposition of its people. I understand that in spite of the criticisms which the noble Lord has levelled at some of the results which he understands to have proceeded from the Russian understanding, he would in no way desire to impair our good relations with Russia—[LORD LAMINOTON: Hear, heard.]—either in Persia or in any other part of the world, only be believes that those good relations might be fully maintained with a definite change of action on the part of both Governments. [LORD LAMINGTON: Hear, hear.] It is, of course, quite true that the existence of an understanding between the two Powers, particularly in relation to questions so thorny as those which arise in Persia, does not and cannot necessarily involve a perpetual identity of view, and it is clear from Papers already laid on the subject that there have been occasions in which either Russia has remonstrated with us or we with Russia in respect of some action of the respective countries.
But I am particularly glad that the noble Lord has in one respect recognised the difficulties of the situation—a respect in which they are often, as I think, not realised by those who speak in public or who write on this subject. It is sometimes the custom to talk of Russia and the action of Russia as though all the inhabitants of Russia thought precisely alike on these questions, and that there was only one set of views and opinions which had to be taken into consideration. It is a common form of error to suppose, because a country is not governed by an Executive responsible to a Parliament, that therefore there is no such thing as public opinion in such a country. Nothing can be more misleading. Whatever the form of government may be, however despotic it may be in name or in appearance, the rulers of a country have to pay and do pay a close regard to public opinion; and, as the noble Lord has fully recognised, there are in relation to this question of Persia quite different schools of 682 thought among Russian statesmen and Russian administrators. There is, no doubt, a strong forward school in that country who would be disposed, if they spoke their minds frankly, to criticise the understanding because it prevents the complete Russification of at any rate the northern half of Persia. On the other hand, there is a strong body—and in essence the strongest body, because these are the views held by the Russian Government—who have no desire for an indefinite enlargement of their responsibilities in the direction of Persia. They do not desire to lose any influence which they possess as the most powerful neighbours of a weak country and as the principal traders with that country; but they do not desire to undertake any more direct control or to proceed in the direction of occupation still less of annexation. We are able to say with confidence that during the whole of these difficult proceedings the loyalty of the Russian Government and the loyalty of the Russian Minister at Teheran, M. Poklewsky, who is so well known to many of us in this House, to the Convention and all that it involves has been altogether complete. At the same time I quite agree that it is impossible to believe that the action of all the agents of Russia throughout Persia has been, so far as one is able to judge, in conformity with the wishes of St. Petersburg, or that it has been inspired by a desire to maintain that independence and integrity of Persia which the noble Lord has rightly quoted as forming an essential point in the understanding between the two countries.
The noble Lord spoke of the northern part of the Russian sphere of influence as being "absolutely controlled by Russia," and he spoke of a part of their sphere rather further south, including the capital, Teheran, as being, not absolutely under Russian control, yet in a condition in which Russian control was the only control, and he added, I think, that the Persian Government could not move hand or foot without the leave of Russia. I think that is a statement which is liable to be misunderstood, because as a matter of fact the Russian Minister and our successive Ministers there have worked together, as I said just now, with absolute loyalty. It is, of course, the case that to both the Persian Government has made frequent appeals for advice and assistance, but it would not be accurate to state that any difference has been made at Teheran as between the responsible agents of the two 683 Governments there. The noble Lord, while criticising the Convention, did not suggest—and he was himself aware of the omission—did not suggest any other method apart from the Convention by which the integrity of Persia can be altogether secured. He said—I believe with perfect truth—that the existence of the Convention was not incompatible with that integrity. But he did not say what I myself believe to be the fact, that the existence of the Convention avoided either the definite partition of Persia or at any rate an occupation of a large part of Persia by Russia, with a possible abstention from any similar steps on our part in the south, but with some strengthening, which would clearly have been necessary in such a case, of our position on the actual seaboard of the Persian Gulf. That is what I cannot help believing would have been the outcome if there had been no Entente between us and Russia.
But the effect, according to the noble Lord, either of too much interference or too little has been equally disastrous. He points to Northern Persia as being now in Russian occupation, though I venture to think that he has very greatly overstated his case; and he points to Southern Persia as being in a condition, not of British occupation, as we all know it is not, but of complete and hopeless anarchy without a trade road upon which it is possible for any caravan to make a journey. That, surely, places us in a somewhat melancholy dilemma. Because it seems only reasonable to assume that if Russia had for the time being, or permanently, cleared altogether out of Northern Persia a somewhat similar state of anarchy would have reigned there, or that the only method by which any species of order could be secured in Southern Persia would have been by a definite occupation by our troops. I should be very sorry to believe that such a dilemma is the one that we have to face, although I certainly should not pretend to speak in anything like sanguine terms of the situation as it exists at this moment or of the immediate future.
The fact is, my Lords, I can think of no comparison so accurate with the present condition of Persia as that of the state in which the noble Lord's native land was in the second half of the sixteenth century, during the troublous reign of Mary Queen of Scots and during the infancy of her son. It would be possible to make a number of close parallels between the condition of 684 things that obtained in Scotland at that time and that of which one reads in Persia now. We are confronted with this perpetual difficulty, the question of money, which appears to move in an eternal and vicious circle in this way. Unless a considerable amount of money is advanced to Persia there is no chance of restoring order, but unless order is restored you have no security for the interest on the loan. It is possible, therefore, to go arguing backwards and forwards on those two facts, each of them indisputable in itself, with the natural result that money appears to become more and more difficult to lend. But it is only just to say that the Russian Government have fully recognised the paramount necessity of a loan, and, if possible, a large loan. It may be necessary in the interval to go on dribbling out smaller sums of money for the meeting of immediate necessities, the pay of the various forces involved, and so on, but both countries will do their best by a close examination of the real financial resources of the country to see how the difficulty of obtaining a reasonable security for the interest of a large advance can be met. Although, of course, their financial advisers are bound to look at the matter from a purely financial point of view, I am convinced that the Governments will be disposed not to take too hard or strict a view in considering the possibility of an advance.
The noble Lord, in speaking of Southern Persia, mentioned what happened in the autumn of last year, when we sent a larger Consular escort to Shiraz, and the attack on Mr. Smart, our Consul, took place on the road from Bushire. The noble Lord criticised the form of that Consular escort, which he said was either too large or too small. It was not large enough for an army, and it was too large to be regarded as a Consular guard. The noble Lord has been in those parts and I have not, and therefore I should be slow to contradict him; but I confess it is not easy to see, the condition and position of Shiraz and of our Consul there being what it is, why an Indian Cavalry regiment should be regarded as something so formidable or imposing that it could not be looked upon as a Consular guard. It might have been simpler, if the noble Lord likes it it might have been wiser, to send a battalion or half a battalion of Infantry instead. The reason for sending Cavalry was that at the time the life and property of British subjects in Shiraz were considered to be in imminent danger.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
The danger may have been over, but the fear of danger certainly was not over. Far from it; and we did not treat it as a matter of special importance whether Cavalry or Infantry were sent for that particular purpose. It was most clearly and expressly laid down that the Cavalry were sent as a Consular guard and not as an escort for caravans. Their position has remained that of a Consular guard, and it will so remain until they return to India. I can say without hesitation that I shall be very glad when that large Consular guard can be removed. I should be very glad myself if it could be removed to-morrow. We shall certainly return it to India—though it will have to be replaced by some other force—as soon as conditions permit. As the noble Lord knows, there have been various complications respecting the demand for compensation in respect of the attack on Mr. Smart. In the absence of any powerful Central Government at Teheran, it is no easy matter to secure that the individuals upon whom we believe the responsibility for that attack properly lies should be made amenable, and the question of the reduction or withdrawal of this particular force has been complicated by that fact. But I can assure the noble Lord that as soon as this Cavalry regiment can be returned to India the better we shall be pleased.
I was glad, however, to hear the noble Lord speak with appreciation of the efforts to create a gendarmerie under Swedish officers. I believe that the formation of such a force offers the best prospect which can be put before us of restoring the safety of the southern roads. I think I am right in saying that the proposition is that a force of 1,500 men should be devoted to this purpose, and it is gratifying to have the testimony of the noble Lord that not only are the Swedish officers keen and apt for their work, which confirms the information that we had received, but that also they in their turn are well satisfied with the material which they have to turn into these road guards. But, as the noble Lord very well knows, the formation of a gendarmerie of this kind produces troubles and difficulties of its own. The various tribes on the roads are accustomed to supply what are termed road guards," who are paid for their services by a form of blackmail upon passing 686 caravans, and the institution of a Government gendarmerie naturally interferes with this particular source of profit. It will therefore be necessary, as I am sure the noble Lord will agree, to proceed carefully in securing the adhesion of the various tribal leaders to the plan if it is to work at all successfully and without friction.
I think that the noble Lord was a little sanguine, even possibly a little biased, in laying stress, as he did, upon the peaceful proclivities of the people, and in expressing the belief that if they were only left alone they would settle down, as I understood him to believe, to order and to good government. I do not dispute for a moment that the Persian character may deserve everything that has been said of it. But I cannot help recalling that during all the most troublous years of Irish government noble Lords opposite and their friends heard with deep impatience what used to be said by those who desired to speak up for the popular movements in Ireland and the freedom of Ireland from crime. Noble Lords used to point out that that might be all very well; that there might be fewer burglaries and fewer crimes of ordinary violence, but that upon the whole, owing to agrarian agitation and crime, life could not be regarded as safe over large districts. Therefore while, as I say, not disputing anything that the noble Lord may say of the merits of the character of the Persian people, who are a profoundly interesting people from their history, yet at the same time it is, perhaps, a little sanguine to believe that a mere policy of non-interference would lead to the establishment of a state of order and facility of trade.
In one sense I am entirely in agreement with the noble Lord so far as our sphere of influence is concerned. I should do my very utmost to the last possible moment to avoid anything which could be described as military occupation of any part of the country or an attempt to restore general order by British arms. I say this because no man can possibly foresee the end of the road along which you have to travel if you adopt that policy. You have to deal with a proud people, as I have just stated, proud from their past history; you have to deal with a people who hold the most exclusive religious faith in the world; and you have to deal with a people in whom an anti-foreign sentiment is very easily aroused. The noble Lord has himself said that the mere fact of 687 our sending a somewhat larger Consular guard to Shiraz than we have been in the habit of sending there created the wildest suspicions of our intentions in the minds of some of the inhabitants: Therefore I would do practically anything to avoid anything that could be described as a military occupation, not merely on account of Persia, although I think it would be a distinct wrong to her; but it is also on account of the interests of India and of the interests of this country and of the Empire at large that it would be, in my opinion, an act of supreme folly to enlarge our responsibilities in that direction. Therefore interference of that kind is interference which I venture to think ought only to be taken in the very last resort, and in order to avoid something which is obviously and definitely worse.
As I said, I cannot pretend to regard the future very hopefully. I do not think it is necessary to adopt the depressed and gloomy tone used by the noble Lord in regard to the aims and intentions of Russia. I cannot think that he is fair to the Russian Government. The vicious circle of which I spoke in relation to the supply of money and the restoration of order sets before us a problem which must be regarded as one of supreme difficulty, and until that is removed and until also, I am bound to add, the Central Government at Teheran is able to take a distinct and definite part in governing the whole country, or at any rate doing what it can to administer the whole country—until an advance is made in those directions I agree it is not possible to speak with very much confidence of the immediate future. There are some signs, however, of an improving state of things. I think the noble Lord mentioned the Lynch road as the last which had been kept open but was now closed. What happened was that the Bakhtiari Khans, who look after the protection of that road, had not been able for various reasons to afford the engineer who looks after the road and his staff proper protection. Our Minister at Teheran went on at every opportunity pointing out the necessity of resuming this Protection; and our last news in the early part of this month is that one of the principal and most energetic of the Khans, furnished, I am glad to say, with sufficient funds for the purpose—because that is an item which always in such cases ought to be mentioned—was to start, and as far as I know has started, for the highlands there 688 for the purpose of restoring order and guaranteeing the security of the road. That, of course, is done through the Central Government at Teheran, and there is every reason to hope that the results will be successful and that that particular trade route will shortly be open and secure once more. I think I have covered the various points raised by the noble Lord, but if there is any other question with which I have not dealt I have no doubt he will remind me, and I shall be happy to answer if I can.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, the noble Lord who sits behind me, Lord Lamington, has, not for the first time this afternoon, rendered a substantial service to Persia and to British interests by bringing the unfortunate condition of that country before your Lordships' House. To-day he has spoken with the added authority of a recent visit to the country, which has enabled him to see things with his own eyes and accordingly to speak to your Lordships as an eye-witness of recent events. The noble Lord drew for the information of your Lordships a picture of the present condition of affairs in Persia which I can only describe as profoundly disquieting and even pathetic. The noble Marquess who has just sat down seemed to dispute the general accuracy of that picture, and more than once described it as over-coloured and overstated, but I do not think there was anything in his speech that led us to doubt the substantial accuracy of what the noble Lord said on every point. Indeed, from such information as I possess I should be inclined in some respects to speak in even more gloomy terms about the present condition of Persia and about its future prospects than the noble Lord did himself.
The noble Lord alluded to the last occasion—it was in December of last year—when the subject of Persia came before your Lordships' House, and I remember very well that at that time, a time of great crisis in Persian affairs when the Persian Government was reeling under the blows of two successive Ultimatums from Russia, the noble Viscount, Lord Morley, reassured us by reading out to the I louse what he described as an important assurance from the Russian Government. It was to this effect—The Russian Government assures us that it has no aims that would violate the independence and integrity of Persia. It assures ns categorically, and desires us to place on record that such 689 military measures as it has taken in Persian territory are of a purely provisional nature, and it has no intention whatever of infringing the provisions of the Anglo-Russian Convention of 1907 as to Persia.We were somewhat comforted by that assurance, and I remember thanking the noble Viscount for the definite advance that seemed to have been made by this announcement. We were told by Russia that her military occupation was to be of a purely provisional character. But now what is the impression left upon us by the picture drawn by the noble Lord? Only two days ago I read a reply given by the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons to the effect that at the present moment there are 12,400 Russian troops in the North of Persia—an occupation more extensive than has ever taken place before; an occupation so definite that it quite justifies the noble Lord in saying that practically the whole of Northern Persia has passed under the political control of Russia. Tabriz in the North-west has long been a town practically under Russian domination. The same is now true of Meshed in the North-east; and recently we heard that the Russians had even bombarded the holy shrine of Imám Reza at Meshed. It was but yesterday I read that at Tabriz they had ordered the Persian Government to organise a further force of so-called Persian Cossacks, which means, of course, Persian troops under the charge of Russian officers and non-commissioned officers and practically obeying Russian commands. That, then, is the position along the whole of the North of Persia—a position of absolute Russian supremacy, of Russian military occupation very little short of annexation.
Then we come to the middle part of Persia, the part in which lies the capital. Here, again, I understood the noble Marquess to dispute the general accuracy of what my noble friend said. I believe my noble friend was entirely justified. In Teheran at the present moment the Government is impotent. The Regent who has been conducting affairs during the last two years has, I believe, left the country; the Treasury is empty, and the control of the finances, if the word is capable of being used in connection with the present situation in Persia, is in hands which are profoundly distrusted both by the British and by the Persians themselves, and which are believed to be inspired by great sympathy with the views of those extremists on the Russian side to whom the noble Marquess referred.
690 I pass clown to the South, towards the sphere with which we are specially interested. The noble Marquess deprecated the use of the word "anarchy" as applied to the condition of the trade roads in the South of Persia. It is a curious thing that only this morning I saw a letter from a correspondent in Shiraz, written less than three months ago, in which he used these words—The whole of Southern Persia is in a state of anarchy and is ruled by robber gangs.That I believe to be a faithful description of the fact. Trade is practically nonexistent.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
The noble Earl scarcely caught what I said. My intention was to point out that according to Lord Lamington the only alternative was either full military occupation or anarchy—that there seemed to be no other course.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I do not for one moment think that that was the alternative of my noble friend. But I was alluding to thou passage in the noble Marquess's speech in which he disputed the accuracy of the use of the word "anarchy" as applied to the conditions in Southern Persia. I am afraid it is true. Such is the position in that part of the country with which we are chiefly concerned; and the position, unhappily, has been rendered not better but worse by the very measures taken by His Majesty's Government to alleviate that state of affairs—I allude to the despatch of Indian Cavalry troops to Shiraz and Isfahan. You have 240 troops at Shiraz and 120 at Isfahan. Does not that quite justify my noble friend in what he said about this force being either too large or too small for its object?—too small to control the roads, to protect travellers, to dominate the tribes; too large for the mere purpose of a Consular escort. I believe myself that the despatch of those troops was a great mistake. It has caused nothing but ill-feeling and heartburning in Persia. So much so that the one traveller—it used to be the other way about—who cannot not now march up with any security from the sea to the towns in the interior is an Englishman. Surely that is a most pitiable state of affairs. I hope that that mistake having been recognised His Majesty's Government will, as soon as they can do so with dignity and propriety, take these 691 escorts away. I quite agree with what the noble Marquess said on the point of military occupation. There is not a sane man in this country who would welcome an occupation either on a large or a small scale by British forces of any part of Southern Persia. It is precisely because we think the attitude now adopted must inevitably lead sooner or later to some such occupation that we feel bound from time to time to call attention in this House to matters as they progress. Such, my Lords, is the state of affairs in the North, the centre, and the South of Persia.
There is one other point of view that even we in your Lordships' House ought to consider, and that is the position and sufferings of the Persian people themselves. I believe the attitude of that unhappy people, torn by this disorder, is one of profound misery, so much so that they would welcome any strong hand that was stretched out over them, whether it were Russian, or British, or foreign of any description whatever. That, my Lords, is an element that may appeal to our pity, but it is also an element of danger; because, of course, the knowledge of such a condition of affairs can hardly fail to be an encouragement to the extreme persons on the Russian side who are anxious to push their Government into a further advance.
Broadly speaking, although the noble Marquess deprecated the use of strong adjectives, he said little to dispute the picture which the noble Lord behind me drew and some of the details of which I have filled in. But in one portion of his speech the noble Marquess indulged in the now familiar retort, familiar because we have not only heard it in this House but the Foreign Secretary has repeated it almost ad nauseam in the House of Commons—namely, that bad as this condition of affairs is it would have been much worse but for the Anglo-Russian Agreement. The way in which the noble Marquess put it this evening was this, that owing to the Convention we had escaped a definite occupation by Russia of the northern part of Persia. The facts that I gave just now, I think, show that the position of affairs is little short of a definite occupation of that part of the country by Russia.
The general argument used by the noble Marquess and employed by the Foreign Secretary is one which it seems to me is quite inconsistent with the facts of the case; and for this reason more than for any other. 692 The Anglo-Russian Agreement was concluded in September, 1907—that is to say, nearly five years ago. But what was the position of affairs in Persia before those days? For nearly a hundred years the position of Russia in the North has been one of military ascendancy in strength almost as great as that she now occupies. Yet during the whole of this time, although there was no Anglo-Russian Agreement, Persia retained her independence. None of these calamitous results ensued. But since the conclusion of that Agreement—I do not say entirely in consequence of it—the position of Persia has been steadily and daily getting worse. To what was it due that in the old days Persia succeeded in retaining her integrity and independence without the Anglo-Russian Agreement to sustain her? It was due to the consciousness that had any attempt been made by Russia or by any other Power to destroy that integrity or to interfere with that independence, such an act would have been met by the determined hostility of this country. That has been the traditional policy of British Governments for the best part of the last century. Why is the opposite result produced now? It is because our attitude in Persia, at the same time that we repeat our old assurances about independence and integrity, is no longer one of determined insistence upon the principles to which I refer, but is apt to be one of complacency, of acquiescence, of mild-mannered agreement in the various infringements that take place of Persian autonomy, which one may almost say is being whittled away before our very eyes.
The noble Marquess seemed to think that perhaps the worst thing that could happen in the matter of Persia—it would, indeed, be a bad one—would be that we should be driven at any time to contemplate a military occupation of the southern part of the country. True. But let us try and look a little bit ahead. Let us try and see the direction in which things are tending. It seems to me that if the present state of affairs continues, if Russia is driven by the exigencies of the case to tighten her hold, first upon the North and then upon the centre of the country, she must gradually move down towards our sphere and must fill the vacuum which is created by the incompetence of the Persian Government. And in this way I do see—it is a prophecy and warning which I utter with profound regret—a drawing together of the Russian 693 and the British spheres of interest and activity in Persia. I do see in the not distant future India, and the British Government on behalf of India, being driven to do something in defence of those interests in the South which it is absolutely necessary for the safety of our Indian Empire we should safeguard. I do see Persian independence gradually being crushed out of existence before our eyes. The noble Marquess concluded by saying he could not be very hopeful, and that there were not many bright spots on the horizon. I see no single bright spot on the horizon. I see dark clouds rolling up, pregnant with danger and with risk, not merely to Persia but to our future relations with Russia and to the interests of the Indian Empire itself. I am sorry to speak in what the noble Marquess, I am sure, would tell me is a very pessimistic and gloomy fashion. I would gladly say that I think things are going well. But when I am familiar with this state of things how can I allow my conscience to be lulled by the facile expressions that fall from Ministers, and to say that things are well when I know them to be bad and believe them to be getting worse?
As regards what the noble Marquess said in direct reply to Lord Lamington, there was one point he did not allude to—I think he forgot it. The noble Lord behind me sought from His Majesty's Government a repetition, which I am sure they would be prepared to give, of this very definite pledge about the ex-Shah. The ex-Shah was a curse to his country while he was in it, and he ought never to be allowed to return. A most definite pledge has been given in that respect, and my noble friend sought nothing more than to be told that that is a pledge to which His Majesty's Government will faithfully adhere.
The noble Marquess made one point to which it is only fair that I should allude in passing. He said the Russian Government themselves, both at headquarters and through their representative at Teheran, have been quite loyal to the terms of the Agreement. I, of course, fully accept that assurance. Indeed, any one who knows the Russian Minister at Teheran at the present moment, Monsieur Poklevsky, would be confident that lie would conduct the relations between his Government and our own in a perfectly straightforward and honourable way. But the noble Marquess laid his finger on what is the weak spot in the situation. There are 694 always agents who interpret the policy of their Government in a more extreme sense and divert it to the gratification of their own political ambitions. That is the serious feature of the position. What is more serious still is that it is these extreme elements who get the better of the Minister. Therefore while you are getting the fullest assurances from your Russian allies, the Agreement between you and them is being almost neutralised by the illicit and extravagant action of their subordinates.
The noble Marquess alluded to two other points. The first was the question of loans. I quite grant that the question of loans is one of great difficulty, because, as the noble Marquess very justly pointed out, you cannot give a loan without some security, and the Persian Government is hardly in a position to give any security at all. Yet at the same time I think a certain financial and political risk must be run in this respect. After all, His Majesty's Government equally with ourselves have one object in view—namely, the recovery, if so it may be, of the independence and integrity of Persia. It cannot be done without money. I think, therefore, that at the present stage we ought not to be too exacting in our conditions. I believe His Majesty's Government along with the Russian Government have recently provided a loan to the Persian Government in the form of cash, and I think that within the limits of such caution as they find themselves able to observe something further must be done in this direction. The second point to which I wish to refer is that of the gendarmerie. Let us by all means give every encouragement we can to this experiment of a gendarmerie under Swedish officers. The noble Lord behind me paid a tribute, which I was glad to hear, to the spirit and patriotism of the men and also to the hold that had already been established over their confidence by their officers. These officers, unfortunately, have no executive authority. They are instructors and little more. Still there is in the creation of this gendarmerie the germ of a good idea, and I hope His Majesty's Government will lend every support to it in their power.
My observations have, I am afraid, been of a somewhat depressing character, but we shall do no good by shutting our eyes to the fact that the position in Persia requires unremitting vigilance. His Majesty's Government can do much more, I believe, 695 than they have done in the past on the lines indicated by my noble friend behind me. What, after all, did he ask for? That there should be introduced into our negotiations either with Russia or with Persia the spirit, not merely of loyalty to our own assurances, but even of standing up where the occasion arises to stand up against the action of those who are disloyal to them. I do honestly think that His Majesty's Government might show greater spirit in their dealings—a little more courage, a little less acquiescence, a little more delicate regard for the interests of Persia itself. I am not one of those who wish to see the Anglo-Russian Agreement, profoundly as I dissent from some of the terms on which it was concluded, torn up. But if spirit is shown on the one side, let spirit also be shown on the other. Let the British Government show more emphatically than they have hitherto done that the one object they have in view and on which they mean to insist is the continued vindication of the independence and integrity of that unhappy country.
My Lords, I wish to disclaim the suggestion made by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House that my alternatives were anarchy or annexation. I said that I look to the gendarmerie to produce order again in Persia. May I take it that the noble Marquess adheres to the terms of the statement made by Lord Morley last December—that in no circumstances would His Majesty's Government recognise the return of the ex-Shah Mohamed Ali?
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
The noble Lord knows that I cannot speak definitely on behalf of the Foreign Office because I do not represent it. The noble Lord, I think, was not quite accurate in saying that we had withdrawn the stipulation that in no case would the ex-Shah be allowed to return to Persia without our leave. I think, as a matter of fact, that the position was maintained that a return of the ex-Shah into Persia at all without our consent was altogether inadmissible, and to that the Russian Government agreed. On the general merits, I may say that all I know of the character and proceedings of the ex-Shah would lead me to suppose that there is little or no prospect of any such leave being given.